Adopt-A-Lot agreements.

Baltimore City recently unveiled a streamlined Adopt-A-Lot program through which the city allows residents to apply to build a garden, park, or other community space on a vacant city-owned lot. Through the program, the city gives community gardeners and farmers a license to do certain activities on the property.

CLC has put together a short informational sheet on the legal implications of an Adopt-A-Lot license agreement, which can be found here.

Lease v. License:

One of the most important distinctions that community members must understand is that the Adopt-A-Lot agreement is not a lease. Rather, it is a license. A license is essentially permission from the City to use the site for the benefit of the community. This permission may be withdrawn at any time (after the City gives thirty (30) days’ notice) for any or no reason. If the adopter uses the lot in a manner outside the scope of the agreement, the City may withdraw permission to use it with only five (5) days’ notice.

Your Adopt-A-Lot agreement may state that, if the neighbors are using the lot as a garden, Baltimore City may use its discretion to terminate the agreement after the growing season to allow the gardeners to harvest their crops. However, Baltimore City is not required to wait until after the harvest if it chooses not to.


Another important issue to consider is that the person or group adopting the lot agrees to take on all liability “in any way connected with or arising from the activities carried on” at the property. This means that if a person is injured on the property, the injured person can sue the person or group who adopted the lot in order to cover the costs of their injury.

Because personal injury lawsuits can be very expensive, many community gardeners and farmers are now looking for liability insurance policies that will cover the work done on these plots of land.

Stay tuned for more research and information on liability insurance and urban gardens and farms.

Posted on by Becky Witt

3 Responses to Adopt-A-Lot agreements.

  1. becky says:

    Hi, Frank.

    Given the amount of vacant land in Baltimore City, it is unlikely that Baltimore City will be terminating any Adopt-A-Lot license agreements any time soon.

    The frustrating situation is that greening efforts like parks and gardens tend to increase property values in the neighborhood, making it more likely that developers will offer to purchase the vacant lots. And, obviously, if Baltimore City receives an offer to purchase a lot, they’re going to take it! That way, the city gets money from the sale, plus property taxes and the benefit of increased economic development.

    What we’re trying to do through the Urban Agriculture Law Project is to make sure people know what they’re getting into ahead of time, so that they can move forward with their projects in full knowledge of all the risks.

  2. Chris Firehock says:

    How does this fit with the Power in Dirt initiative, which, if I understand correctly is a one year agreement that can be renewed to five years if the project shows promise/permanency? Does this do away with that program, or is this just an alternative so that projects can be “shovel ready” quickly and without the level of commitment and red tape as a Power in Dirt project?

    • becky says:

      Hi Chris,

      Sorry for the delay in responding. The Power in Dirt initiative consists of Adopt-A-Lot agreements. So they’re the same thing.

      From what I’ve learned in the past couple weeks, once a lot has been adopted with an Adopt-A-Lot agreement through the Power in Dirt program, it’s put on a “do-not-sell” list that the city maintains. *This does not mean that it CAN’T be sold, just that there are additional hoops to jump through if the city does decide to sell it.* There is no legal permanency whatsoever to the Power-in-Dirt/Adopt-A-Lot community-managed open spaces.

      If you have more questions — please let me know: beckyw AT communitylaw DOT org or 410-366-0922, x18.

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